In our previous blogs we have discussed how to upload documents, digitize photographs, and how we have used those sources to explore the history of the Chester Fritz library. More recently one of our colleagues conducted an interview with Wilbur Stolt, the Director of Libraries for the University of North Dakota, which provided an opportunity to illustrate the role of oral interviews in public history.
Oral history of course has been around a long time. Many societies have relied on oral tradition as a means of recording and preserving the past, particularly in the absence of written histories. The use of oral history developed in the United States in the nineteenth-century when anthropologists began collecting recordings on phonograph cylinders. Later, in the 1930s the Federal government paid interviewers through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to collect oral accounts from various groups, particularly Civil War survivors and former slaves. Today, oral history has developed into an accepted and useful discipline that provides information from different perspectives, especially when they cannot be found in written sources.
In our particular case, the interviewer was able to explore the changing role of the Chester Fritz library from the perspective of the person responsible for the overall operations of the library. Mr. Stolt’s perspective is one of management and general operations. He provides an overview of the major changes he has witnessed during his tenure. Here’s our video. Later we hope to provide different perspectives as we interview others of the library staff. .
Of course one of the advantages of conducting oral interviews today is the way we incorporate various media formats into a single presentation. The interviewer may take notes of comments of interest for future reference, or for follow-up questions. However, at the same time the answers provided by the subject can be digitally recorded in both audio and video formats. There are several software applications for capturing, editing, and burning videos or slide shows. In our case we have elected to use Nero Vision, from Nero Multimedia Suite 10 Platinum HD. With this software we were able to overlay music in the introduction, insert titles, still photos, and edit separately the video and audio from the interview.
This raises an important issue regarding oral history. Because what you see is an edited video, it reflects the emphasis that we wished to portray. When conducting research it is always important to check the unedited primary source, rather than rely on secondary sources.